How Healing Happens


The mission of Gracewood is to bring home, hope and healing to single mothers and their children in crisis. In order to more efficiently accomplish this mission, the ministry has revamped its approach to providing hope and healing to the moms who call Gracewood home.

Beginning two years ago, Gracewood introduced a new model called “therapeutic community,” a journey towards healing that focuses on relationships and group counseling.

“The idea behind the model is to give our women a voice, a perception of community, a sense of equality with one another and the Gracewood staff, allowing them to build closer relationships,” said Debbie Rippstein, Executive Director of Gracewood. “By having these deeper relationships and a deeper understanding of the needs of other moms, they naturally become advocates for one another.”

The term “therapeutic community” was first coined at the end of World War II in Europe by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Thomas Main, who was in charge of more than 2,000 troops returning home from war. Upon realizing that he could not meet with each soldier one-on-one, he formed groups of 12, asking them to share their stories with one another. He quickly found that entire groups were experiencing healing simply through sharing with each another. The term “therapeutic community” became defined as hurting people telling each other how to get better.

“Through this model, our moms become ‘experts by experience,’ qualified to give advice because they have lived through it,” said Debbie. “It has been amazing to see the support and encouragement the moms give each other during tough times, as well as the celebrations they enjoy through each other’s accomplishments and successes.”

Therapeutic community was first introduced to Gracewood in 2010 by experts from England, Dr. Susan B. Williams and Dr. Peter R. Holmes . They spent more than 40 hours at Gracewood interviewing both clients and staff and training them on the model.

“The therapeutic community model has really created an atmosphere of unity among our moms and family life counselors,” said Tamara Collins, Gracewood Program Coordinator and a former Family Life Coordinator. “As a group, they now have the opportunity to solve problems together that arise within the community. While in the past, we contracted licensed therapists to counsel our moms, Family Life Coordinators now have the opportunity to work directly with them and deal with issues within the group.”

One of the things that makes Gracewood unique is the fact that Family Life Coordinators actually live in cottages with the families in crisis. The goal of therapeutic community is to take advantage of these daily relationships and create a shared responsibility for both the community and personal wholeness.

“The idea behind therapeutic community is the realism that not everyone in crisis has access to or the financial resources to pay for individual counseling, therefore there has to be an alternative way to achieve healing,” said Dr. Holmes. “The person helping only needs to be one step ahead in order to offer hope, which is people’s biggest need when they are in crisis, to have someone say, ‘I’ve been there and I survived and you will too.’”

The Gracewood staff has seen times of challenge and disagreement navigated in much more healthy ways since adopting the therapeutic model due to the greater trust that has been established among the moms.

“Before Gracewood, because of past hurts, I had the tendency to be closed off and untrusting of women as a whole,” said Gracewood mom Rachel Bromley. “Through this ministry, I have received the incredible opportunity to receive healing and learn to have meaningful relationships with women, a lesson that will carry over into both my parenting and future career as a therapist. As I watch hope rise in the eyes of other residents, I am not only encouraged but deeply honored to be part of this community.”